A The Raiders refused to scratch the itch, to ignite another controversy, to spice up the evening. They played it safe and played it smart, and they played it quickly. Long before Johnny Manziel sat and sat and sat, nervously inhaling one bottle of water after another as the NFL draft proceedings progressed, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen exhaled in relief.
Linebacker Khalil Mack of the Buffalo Bulls. They hit their target, they said afterward.
Consistent with an offseason theme of (a) aggressively improving the defense and (b) enhancing their own job security after two miserable 4-12 seasons, the Raiders’ decision-makers turned to the 6-foot-3 senior with the outsized personality and portfolio to match. Mack started all 48 games he played and established numerous major-college records, including one for forced fumbles (16). His combination of production and size/explosiveness/versatility thrust him into the pantheon of projected top-five picks.
Solo sacks. Team sacks. Tackles for losses. Bruises inflicted upon quarterbacks, and on running backs. Take your pick. Mack is all over the place.
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“He’s a nice chess piece to have,” a calm, but visibly pleased Allen said at Raiders headquarters while taking a break from the draft proceedings. “You can never have enough rushers in the NFL. It’s all about affecting the quarterback. To be honest with you, we felt fortunate that he was there when we got to the fifth pick.”
Team officials in all pro sports invariably utter similar comments – how shocked they are when a player drops into their laps – but this was an active and intriguing evening. The Houston Texans opened the festivities by selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina). The St. Louis Rams followed with offensive tackle Greg Robinson (Auburn).
But then the real party got started: The Jacksonville Jaguars took quarterback Blake Bortles (Central Florida), the Buffalo Bills swapped picks with Cleveland and grabbed wideout Sammy Watkins (Clemson), the Raiders landed Mack, the prospect they privately lusted over for weeks, and within the hour, indicated they were open to drafting a quarterback with one of their remaining six picks.
In other words, there appears to be no end in sight to the search for the next great Raiders quarterback, which last season alone prompted auditions for Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson. Veteran Matt Schaub, one of the major offseason acquisitions who is coming off a woeful season with the Houston Texans, might stick around just long enough to mentor his successor.
“There’s an opportunity for that, yes,” said the soft-spoken McKenzie.
But that would not be the wildly entertaining – emphasis on wildly – Manziel, who mercifully went to the Cleveland Browns at No. 22. The Raiders apparently were one of many teams with reservations about the NFL future of the Texas A&M standout, foremost among them his underwhelming size. There were no such reservations in Raiderland about Mack, who joins a defense that already features newcomers Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Antonio Smith, LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck.
Adhering to the modern-day theory that patience is a virtue of past eras, with five-year plans reduced to three, McKenzie is moving quickly; Raiders owner Mark Davis only weeks ago complained to the San Francisco Chronicle about his team’s lack of an identity.
Mack will arrive with plenty of attitude. There seems little doubt about that. He admittedly has never been to Oakland, but he embraced the Raiders of old. Asked whether he prefers hitting a quarterback or a running back, the rookie laughed. “Does the quarterback have the ball?” he replied. “I want to go get the ball out of his hand if he’s not holding it tight. I wouldn’t mind blowing both of them up.”
Known as a disruptive, free-flowing presence, Mack, who went to prep school to pursue basketball, is as comfortable covering receivers over the middle as he is coming off the edge or busting up the middle for sacks. But Buffalo was the only FBS school to offer a scholarship. Four years and one redshirt season later, the only questions about his ability at the next level pertain to his tendency to be too aggressive, even reckless on occasion.
But the Raiders won’t hear of it. This is their guy. McKenzie praised his physicality. Allen talked about falling in love on sight, or in this case, on tape. Mack spoke about getting started and having an impact.
“I’m at the point where I’m tired of talking and I’m ready to go out there and prove a little bit of this stuff,” he said. “I can’t wait. I cannot wait.”